Many students rely on federal student loans to finance their education, and for many, it could be one of the most significant purchases of their life, right up there with buying a home.
The cost of higher education has steadily increased over the last decade, and the most recent Canadian student debt statistics don’t make for easy reading.
The latest student debt data offers deeper insight into the student debt crisis in Canada.
Student debt in Canada: Highlights
- In July 2021, more than 1.8 million Canadian students had a student loan.
- Total student debt in Canada is at least $23 billion and is projected to increase to $25.2 billion by 2026.
- In 2020/2021, the average student loan debt at the time of leaving school was $14,418.
- In 2022/2023, Canadian domestic undergraduate students will pay, on average, 2.6% more in tuition fees than the previous academic year, while international undergraduate students will pay 8% more.
- Average graduate tuition fees have increased by 1244% since 1980.
- In 2020/2021, 309,000 borrowers needed help through the Repayment Assistance Plan (RAP).
Sources: ESDC, StatCan, OSFI
Canadian student debt statistics
The following average student debt statistics shed light on how expensive post-secondary education can be and the burden of student debt across the country.
1. In July 2021, Canada’s total student loan debt was over $23.3 billion
The 2020-2021 Canada Student Financial Assistance Program statistical review reported that Canada’s total student loan debt was over $23.3 billion in July 2021.
That’s a 4% increase from the 2019-2020 academic year and is likely to increase to $25.2 billion by 2026.
2. Over 1.8 million Canadians have student loans
How many Canadians currently have student loan debt?
As of July 2021, 1.8 million Canadians have received student loans, according to the federal government. Both numbers are likely to have increased significantly since this report last crunched the numbers.
This figure doesn’t include private loans and lines of credit.
3. In 2015, the average debt owed by bachelor’s degree students at graduation was $28,000
According to data from the 2018 National Graduates Survey (class of 2015), the average debt owed by Canadian students at graduation was $28,000 for a bachelor’s degree and $15,300 for college graduates.
At graduation, 54% of students with bachelor’s degrees and 49% of college students owed student debt.
Below are some key takeaways from the study:
- These values are not average student loan debts: they represent the average debt of a student at graduation.
- Student debts included federal government-sponsored student loans and non-government loans like bank loans, lines of credit and loans from family or friends.
- However, 74% of students said their loans came from government-sponsored programs, and three out of four students had loans from just one source.
46% of master’s degree students owed an average debt of $28,000 at graduation.
Although doctorate graduates owed an average of $33,000 at graduation, only 36% of graduates had student debt, despite their many years of schooling.
This reason for this becones clearer; 83% of 2015 doctorate graduates used scholarships or prizes to help fund their studies, and 75% had a research or teaching assistantship.
|Level of study||Average student debt owed at graduation||Percentage who owed debt at graduation|
Graduates from health-related programs were the most likely to have student loans upon completing their studies, with 58% of them carrying debt at the time of graduation.
4. In the 2020-2021 academic year, the average student loan balance at the time of leaving school was $14,418
The average Canada Student Loan balance owed at the time of finishing school was $14,418 in the 2020-2021 academic year. This report includes graduates and student loan recipients who did not complete their studies.
This is a 6% increase from the previous year, likely due to the government increasing student loan limits. The average student loan balance was $18,366 for university students and $11,025 for college students.
The average student loan debt balance of full-time students at the time of leaving school in 2020-2021:
|Jurisdiction||Average loan balance|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||$14,460|
|Prince Edward Island||$17,152|
5. In the 2020-2021 academic year, 55% of full-time students owed $10,000 or more at the time of leaving school
Data from the Canada Student Financial Assistance Program tells us that over 55% of students owed $10,000 or more in student loan debt at the time of leaving school.
Loan balances at the time of leaving school for full-time students:
- $10,000 to $14,999: 18% of students
- $15,000 to $19,999: 11% of students
- $20,000 to $24,999: 9% of students
- $25,000 to $29,999: 7% of students
- $30,000 and over: 10% of students
6. Students pay higher tuition fees year after year
Canadian undergraduate students will pay an average of $6,834 in tuition fees for the 2022/2023 academic year, a 2.6% increase from the previous year and a 22.5% ($1,253) increase from the 2012/2013 academic year.
Nationally, international undergraduate students will pay 8% more ($36,123 on average) in 2022/23, a much higher amount.
Source: Statistics Canada
7. Undergraduate students studying veterinary medicine, law and dentistry will pay the highest average tuition fees in 2022/2023
In 2022/2023, Canadian undergraduate students in the following fields of study will pay the highest average tuition fees:
- Dentistry ($23,963)
- Medicine ($15,182)
- Veterinary medicine ($14,838)
- Law ($13,222)
- Pharmacy ($12,291)
- Optometry ($10,389)
These fields account for 3.7% of all Canadian undergraduate student enrolments yearly.
Source: Statistics Canada
8. Average graduate tuition fees have increased by 1244% since 1980
Higher inflation, sluggish wages and reduced government funding have contributed to an ever-increasing cost of living, making it harder for students to pursue higher education.
Since 1980, the average cost for undergraduate tuition fees has increased by 926%, and average graduate tuition fees have increased by 1244%.
Source: Canadian Federation of Students
9. 309,000 borrowers used the Repayment Assistance Plan (RAP) in 2020/2021
Student debt is a problem, but federal government support is available for those struggling to repay their student loans.
In the 2020/2021 academic year, 309,000 borrowers needed help to repay their loans using the Repayment Assistance Plan (RAP), a 4% increase from the previous academic year. 86% of RAP recipients make zero payments.
The Repayment Assistance Plan is a means-tested program that offers student loan debt relief by reducing or eliminating payments if you are on a low income.
If your annual income is below $40,000, you are not required to make student loan repayments. If you earn more, there is a cap on monthly student loan payments of 10 percent of a borrower’s household income.
10. Repayment Assistance Plan enhancements will provide approximately more financial relief to an estimated 180,000 borrowers each year
Enhancements to Canada’s Repayment Assistance Plan (RAP) will provide approximately 180,000 borrowers with more affordable repayment assistance each year.
Source: Government of Canada
11. In the 2020-2021 academic year, 506 borrowers had their student loan debt forgiven under the Severe and Permanent Disability Benefit
In some special cases, people with serious permanent disabilities might not have to repay their student loans. The Severe and Permanent Disability Benefit is a program that cancels student loan debts for those who can’t work due to their disability.
During the 2020-2021 academic year, this program helped 506 people get their student loans forgiven, with an average debt of $15,524 per person erased ($7.9 million in total).
12. In the 2020-2021 fiscal year, 4,400 healthcare professionals received $19.7 million in student loan forgiveness
To increase healthcare services across Canada, family doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals who work in under-served rural or remote communities can benefit from student loan forgiveness.
Throughout the 2020 to 2021 fiscal year, 4,400 healthcare professionals working in under-served rural and remote communities received $19.7 million in Canada Student Loan forgiveness, averaging $4,494 per person.
In 2023, nurses can receive up to $30,000 in loan forgiveness and doctors up to $60,000 over a maximum of 5 years.
13. The Canadian government is permanently eliminating interest on the federal portion of student loans
As of April 1, 2023, the Canadian government will permanently eliminate interest on all Canada Student Loans, including loans currently being repaid. You must pay any interest accrued on your student loan before April 1, 2023.
14. More than 1 in 3 insolvent millennials in Ontario have student loan debt
Student debt is one of the largest sources of household debt for millennials.
In 2022, more than one in three insolvent millennials in Ontario were carrying an average of $16,725 in student debt, representing 30% of their total unsecured debt load.
Source: Hoyes Michalos
The statistics don’t lie. Rising student debt in Canada is a growing concern, and many borrowers are struggling.
Some turn to the Repayment Assistance Plan (RAP) for temporary relief from student loan payments. Although some provincial student loan forgiveness programs can help pay off student loans, not everyone is eligible.
With the average student leaving school with debts of $14,418, rising tuition fees, and the soaring cost of living, education is becoming increasingly out of reach for many Canadian students.
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